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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

Question marks remain or U.S. as Ďstreamlinedí Germany awaits.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, January 31, 1999) -- United States national team coach Bruce Arena keeps saying that the selection of players for qualifying for the 2002 World Cup is going to be a long and slow process, and that we should not read much into these first few matches, either in terms of result or who is in the lineup. Nonetheless, based on observations of people around the U.S. camp, there have been a few clear pluses and minuses so far.

Pluses

* Chris Armas -- The Chcago Fire defensive midfielder continues to play much better than anyone expected. The Arena system calls for such a role player and Armas is filling the bill perfectly. Do not be surprised to see Armas in the starting line-up when Cup qualifying begins.

* Jovan Kirovski -- One of the two biggest questions going into this 1999 training camp is whatís with the Cologne-based 22 year-old. In the past he has seemed to have a world of talent, but he was not able to do much for the national side. Itís clear he is maturing as a player, and is more comfortable as an attacking midfielder rather than a striker. While this does not do anything for the U.S. log jam in the middle, it now appears Kirovski is ready to step forward and contribute.

* Eddie Lewis -- Was a pleasant surprise in San Jose playing a defensive midfield role. Now he has been moved to left back with Jeff Agoos being moved into the middle. If Lewis continues to improve, especially his defensive play, he could have a role on this team.

* Cobi Jones - Jones has become a mature player and is fast establishing himself as a fixture in the U.S. midfield.

Minuses

* The U.S. front line -- At times, in fact most of the time, the U.S. canít buy a goal. That was true in France, and again in San Jose against Australia and in Santa Cruz against the Bolivians. The U.S. midfield is setting up chances, but so far no one with any finishing ability has stepped forward. Brian McBride is good in the air, Roy Lassiterís pace causes major problems for whoever he faces, and Joe-Max Moore has the experience. But none are getting the job done.

* Eddie Pope -- Pope basically has had a lousy camp. Now itís coming out that he is trying to play through hamstring problems. With Llamosa covering for him, his lack of mobility is less apparent. But he was exposed several times against Bolivia. He was sent home on Friday and will miss the Germany game. The answer may be several weeks of rest.

Question Marks

* Claudio Reyna -- Going into this camp the biggest question mark was Reyna. Could he be turned into a true number 10 who can control the midfield, or should the U.S. abandon playing a system that relies on a key distributor in the center and instead go to a different strategy? The school is still out on this one. Reyna played better against Bolivia, in part because of the play of Armas next to him, in part because the Bolivians were very weak. Germany is not. On this one we will have to wait and see.

* Eric Wynalda - Arena hoped to get a good look at Wynalda and figure out if he is an injured player only now becoming fit, or if he is an aging players whose days are behind him. But just as Wynalda was fitting into the training regimen, he was off to Leon. So how, and if, Wynalda fits in is a question that will remain for some time to come.

Meanwhile, the German soccer federation has announced that national coach Erich Ribbeck will be bringing a "streamlined" squad to Florida for the matches against the U.S. in Jacksonville next Saturday and against Colombia in Miami three days later.

"Streamlined" is a polite way of saying a side made up of the best players the national side was able to pry away from their club teams. The German federation and the Bundesliga are in a bit of a power struggle over who controls football in Germany. Officials from some of the Bundesligaís most powerful clubs are complaining that too often their key players are called up to the national side for meaningless friendlies. The trip to the U.S. would fall easily into that category.

Actually, it is more than the Bundesliga. Clubs in France, Italy, Spain and Holland are complaining about the number of matches being played outside of any formal competitions. They are money makers for the national federations, but the wear and tear on players is apparent.

Missing from the German side will be familiar names like defenders Stefan Reuter and Juergan Kohler both of Borussia Dortmund, as well as most of the non-Germany based internationals. Oliver Bierhoff, Christian Ziege (AC Milan) and Jorg Heinrich (Fiorentina) are not coming because they could not get releases from their Italian Serie A clubs. Defender Christian Worns is on the roster, but will only play against Colombia in Florida because he could not get a release from French side Paris Saint Germain for the U.S. match.

One result of this is that the Germans will have a somewhat strange lineup for the U.S. match. The Germans have only four actual defenders on their entire roster, Lothar Matthaus, Markus Babbel, Marko Rehmer and Worns, who will only play against Colombia. So against the U.S., a midfielder will have to fill in on the back line if Germany plays its usual four across.

The Germans are bring six Bundesliga strikers - Marco Bode, Ulf Kirsten, Olaf Marschall, Oliver Neuville, Alexander Zickler and Michael Preetz. But the two starters in France -- Bierhoff and the retired Jurgen Klinsmann -- will be missing.

The bad news for the U.S. is that both Bayernís Jens Jeremies and Dortmundís Andreas Moller will make the trip and will likely start in Germany midfield. The two absolutely controlled the midfield at Parc des Princes when the Germans easily handled the U.S. 2-0. Jeremies marked Reyna right out of the match. He well could do so again in Jacksonville.

Ribbeck has promised "we will play attacking soccer in Florida." With six strikers and only four defenders available that seems a given. That also means possibly a long afternoon for the U.S. defense, especially Carlos Llamosa who might be in for his sternest test ever.

Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.

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